Georgia players and coaches have heard the questions all this week about what they can do to slow down Jadeveon Clowney, the game-changing defensive end for South Carolina.
A couple of offensive tackles who went up against Clowney in his last two games, North Carolina’s James Hurst and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan, offered their thoughts this week about what they did.
First, some context.
Clowney was held to three tackles with no sacks, no tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries against North Carolina Aug. 29 in a game where much was made on his lack of conditioning. He had four tackles, no sacks, two tackles for loss and no quarterback hurries against Michigan in the Outback Bowl, but did flatten Wolverines tailback Vincent Smith, forcing and recovering a fumble in a much-replayed highlight of the offseason.
Against Georgia, Clowney had two sacks and forced a fumble that South Carolina picked up and turned into a touchdown in a 45-42 win in 2011 and had a sack and two tackles for loss in a 35-7 blowout of the Bulldogs last season.
Georgia coach Mark Richt mentioned this week among things that can be done to combat Clowney is sliding protection towards him to free up a tackle not to block him one-on-one.
“Your tackle is basically responsible for taking him on an outside rush,” Richt said, “but if he makes a move inside of him, there will be a guard waiting for him, so that’s one way.”
Another way is lining a tight end outside the tackle. Or a running back or tight end off the ball chipping on his way out. Quick releases by the quarterback or moving the pocket.
Ultimately, though, it could all about how the Georgia’s offensive tackle that lines up against Clowney blocks him.
Kenarious Gates is expected to line up at left tackle and draw Clowney. John Theus, who started at right tackle, in last year’s game said Clowney only lined up on his side once, but that doesn’t mean he won’t move around more Saturday.
So here’s what Hurst and Lewan had to say about going up against Clowney.
North Carolina’s James Hurst
Q: What did the coaches tell you when they graded the film? What did you do well against him particularly?
A: The obvious thing was keeping him to zero sacks, really keeping him off our quarterback pretty much the whole game. That was the big thing. Keeping our quarterback’s confidence up. Able to keep him comfortable in the pocket. Obviously, he had his plays here and there. He’s a great player. He’s going to do that, but I think minimizing his effect on our passing downs, that was key for us.
Q: How did you do it?
A: There’s a lot of preparation to it. Obviously, we knew who we were going to be playing since last season ended. It was a big personal challenge for me. So I took a lot of pride in preparing. Coaches had a good game plan to help us out. Get some running back chips, get some help whenever we could. There are a lot of things that did it, but it’s just playing a good game, having good game plans and watching a lot of film on him.”
Q: I know you guys did a lot of screens and draws and things of that nature. For you personally when you were matched up one-on-one with him, what was key in your head to do what you wanted to do to equalize?
A: I think a big thing is I just didn’t want to just let him beat me clean on some sort of a swim move or a finesse move. You really want to make him beat you with power and not to say he doesn’t have that power, but it definitely takes a lot longer to beat someone with a power move than it does a finesse move. I really keyed on that. He likes finesse and speed and quick moves like that. I really wanted to eliminate those and force him to use the bull rush.
Q: When you studied game film, who from guys that played him last year or the year before did you think had success? Did you look at the Michigan tackle in particular or Tennessee had a guy (Antonio Richardson) who did pretty good against him?
A: Yeah, definitely those two guys I think did the best job against him. The Michigan one no one really thinks about because he had that hit and everything but if you watch that one-on-one matchup with Lewan and him, their left tackle really did a great job. Great technique and really did a good job one-on-one. The same with the tackle from Tennessee. And they were throwing the ball quite a bit, too. So it was a really good job by him, too. Clowney still did have that one sack/fumble against them, but pretty much the whole game the Tennessee guy did a great job.
Q: I know you’re a senior. Did your coaches or friends say you made some money the other night?
A: Yeah, I’ve heard that, but at the same time I know it’s a whole season. I know it’s a big challenge and I’m pretty happy with how I played and how it turned out, personally, obviously not for the game (a 27-10 loss). You would have loved to win. It’s a confidence booster and it really gets me pumped up for the rest of the season.
Q: What percentage of the snaps do you think he was lined up against you?
A: I think he played like 53 snaps or something like that. I’d probably say 30 or 40 of those. It’s hard to say honestly.
Q: Were you one-on-one with him much?
A: Probably half of those or more than half of those I was one-on-one on him.
Q: How gassed do you think he was? There was a lot of attention made of how he was out of condition. I know the temperature was pretty hot. Is that the nature of defensive linemen the first game of the year or what do you make of that?
A: Yeah, definitely. I think it’s the nature of everyone the first game of the year. You haven’t played in game situations so everyone’s going to be tired. He definitely was tired. I was tired. It’s tough to say that anyone was more or less tired. Our offense does that you. We run that high-tempo to try and wear those guys down. It’s part of the game. I’m sure people saw that and will try to exploit it so we’ll see how he responds to it.”
Michigan’s Taylor Lewan
Q: What does it take to neutralize Jadeveon Clowney or do as good a job as you can against him?
A: (Laughs). He’s a great player. So I have to say that. I had a good game that game and he made some plays as well. As far as neutralizing him, it’s just watching film, repeatedly watching film. Knowing his moves. Where he sets up, what’s he going to do when he sets up. Just taking an NFL approach to every single game you play against him.
Q: How much did you get help? How much was it one-on-one?
A: We didn’t change any game plan for him. The coaches gave me an opportunity to prove that I can block one-on-one and it stayed that way the whole game. The only time he would be double-teamed is if we turned it to his side. That’s what we do in the pass game, we turn it right or left. That’s having kind of a zone on one side and man up on the other side. That was the only time he could have possibly been double-teamed.
Q: What do you make of those across the nation who didn’t see that game just seeing that one highlight of him blowing up your running back? Is that frustrating that the image they have of Michigan against Clowney is that?
A: No, you know what? At the end of the game, we lost (33-28) and that’s what matters to me. If we would have won that game and that would have happened, that would have been fine. I know Vincent Smith, the running back who took that hit, he’s a tough individual. He’s the toughest individual I’ve ever met in my life. He was fine. Those guys, he’s a good player. He’s a great player. I’m excited for him this year and all that, but as far as people seeing that and wondering, it’s over.
Q: I know you are listed as first-team preseason All-American by ESPN, CBS, SI, a bunch of places. For those that maybe don’t have your frame or your skill-set in terms of a lineman, what advice would you give them for those that are going to go against him this season? What’s the secret in dealing with him?
A: It’s just never taking a play off. Working every single moment. Watching film. Treating it like it’s your job because that’s what you’re here to do. You’re here to be a student-athlete, get a degree and do everything you possibly can to win a championship at the school you’re at. That’s how everybody needs to think it. Whether you’re playing Central Michigan like we did last week or playing Jadeveon Clowney.
Q: How did you grade out in that game?
A: They said I played very well. They were excited about it. It was good. We really didn’t get graded because it was the last grade of the season. We kind of like moved on from it.”
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